This is my last real post here. At the end of this week I’ll be responding to the questions you guys have sent in, but beyond that, it’s back to my blog and to normal writing for me. It’s been great fun, great seeing so many people comment and respond, and a good exercise for me too, in thinking about how writing works.
This post is less pragmatic than some previous ones – on editing or queries – and more to do with how writers see themselves. Writing itself sits in that weird grey area between being solely an occupation and solely a hobby. Plenty of folk do write just because they like to do it, and they never want to get published. Like artist, ‘writer’ is a title that anyone can claim if they want – which is good, don’t get me wrong – and with no official marker. Doctors have medical degrees, vicars are ordained, but writers just have to decide ‘Hey, I’m a writer! Or, at least, I want to be.’
Professionalism in this case is as much a way of viewing yourself, your success, and your approach to the book world as it is something you act out. Seeing yourself (and being) professional can make a real difference in what you expect to achieve and how you feel about acting upon those dreams. I've said before here that I started blogging and writing because I realised I was actually embarrassed about wanting to be an author. Plenty of conversations went rather like this:
Well-meaning Stranger / Friend / Relation: So, what do you want to do?
Me: Oh, um. Ah. I’m not sure. You know. Maybe … um …
Stranger / Friend / Relation: Didn't I hear you’re writing a book? Or you published one?
Me: Oh, it’s nothing, I mean, yeah, I wrote one. I’m trying to get it published. Sorry.
Stranger / Friend / Relation: Wow. Can I see it?
What’s with being shy about something that defined so much of my life? Simple: It didn't seem like a real job. Not one an adult would do. You know, someone who’d grown up a bit and stopped thinking you could tell stories for a living.
Except, of course, that it is. It’s a perfectly viable way of living, and it’s perfectly acceptable and only a little bit mad.
The key, I think, is that part of being a professional writer is acting like it’s a profession. Don’t be sloppy – learn what the rules of the industry are and follow them. Office workers can’t just decide that they’re going to submit a project to their boss however they darn well please. They follow the company guidelines. Part of being a pro author is letting go of any pretension that it’s art and doesn't need rules. Be a professional in what you say and what you do.
So what does that look like?
It means being courteous and business-like in letters to editors and agents. It means following agency guidelines off websites. It means if you use social media as part of our writing persona, being aware of that and not saying things you’ll regret. It also means being upfront with people about what you do. I’m a writer. Oh yeah. How’d you like that?
Usually it’s only you that thinks it’s weird. Far from derision and shock, the normal response is a mildly interested ‘Oh?’ and a request to pass the cheese. Or, you know, something like that.
Be a pro. Act like writing is your job – dedicate a certain amount of time to it. Say no to socialising because you have to write. You’d do the same if you had a report due for work. Writing is your work – you just want to make sure you’re eventually paid for it.
So, see yourself as a professional by acting appropriately and making sure your approach to yourself is one of down-to-earth pragmatism. Was your book rejected? OK. Move on. It’s a business. Did you get bad feedback from a critique? Work on it. Tone down that ego, if that’s the problem. You’re a pro. Remember that.
And finally, best of luck. For all of this, writing does have art at its heart and sometimes the industry seems so complex and random that a debut author can get so easily lost. Put in the work, though, and see what happens. Creativity and business can totally meet, and while I can’t promise wild and immediate success, I can promise that for me, at least, it made sense, and it’s making me happy.
I will be back, just once more, to answer the questions you guys sent in. Until then, take care.
Simon P. Clark
Simon grew up in the UK before moving to rural Japan to teach English for three years after graduating. From there he moved to New Jersey, USA, where he works as a writer. His first children's book, EREN, is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency. He blogs about writing and publishing at http://www.simonpclark.com.
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